As teachers we are constantly assessing our students. Informal questions, class participation and daily work let us get a picture of what our students know before the quiz and test grades do. Good assessment is ongoing and diagnostic; it helps us decide what to teach the next day, what is working, and what is not. At some point, however, you have to put a grade on a report card and you want to be sure that it is an accurate evaluation of the students’ knowledge.
All good assessments start with clear, focused objectives. Instructional activities and independent practice help students master the objectives. Assessments must accurately test the objectives learned, in a manner that is familiar to the learner. For example, you wouldn’t want to teach summarization by having your students find the correct summary of a story out of a multiple choice list, and then assess it by having students write a summary of a story in their own words. Since these are two different skills, it isn’t fair to students to not test a skill other than the one you taught. Teach it the same way you are going to test it.
If it is new material to students, you don’t expect mastery on the first try. You just want students to become familiar with the material and start processing the information. Take grades on work that you feel the students should be able to do with minimal assistance so that your grades can reflect true mastery of the objective.
Common mistakes that new teachers make include grading just about everything that students do. While you may want to take a participation grade on all student work (they did it, but didn’t necessarily master it), it is unfair to students (and time consuming for you!) to take a percentage grade on all work done. Also, don’t give what teachers call “easy 100s” in order to entice students to bring materials such as construction paper, tissue, etc. While it is tempting to do so in order to have a full supply closet, it is unfair to students who can’t provide the supplies. Ask for the markers, by all means, and thank your students when they bring them. But give grades for more important learning activities.
Be sure to check the grading policy of your department and district before setting up your new system. And of course clear any grading system with your principal prior to communicating it to students and parents.